NEW YORK CITY: The Lilly Awards Foundation has announced that MFA playwriting students Amalia Oliva Rojas of Columbia University, and Danielle Stagger of Yale University will be the inaugural recipients of the Hansberry Lilly Playwright Fellowship. The fellowship comes as part of the Lorraine Hansberry Initiative to encourage women and nonbinary playwrights of color to follow in Hansberry’s footsteps regardless of race, gender, or economic situation. This merit and need-based award is designed to address financial disparities based on gender and identity, while advocating for racial and gender parity in the theatre.
Each fellow will receive a $25,000 stipend for each year of their matriculation, up to $75,000 during the course of their graduate degree. The funds will be dedicated to living expenses not covered by subsidized tuition to ensure the fellows’ have dedicated time for writing, collaboration, and mentorship.
“In over twenty years of teaching at institutions such as Columbia, Princeton and Yale, I can attest to the financial obstacles that have prevented generations of women of color from attending dramatic writing programs,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage in a statement. “It is heartbreaking that there are important voices that go unheard, because the aspiring writers did not have the economic resources to invest in nurturing their craft. We at The Lillys want to change that. The Hansberry Lilly Playwright Fellowship is a pathway for talented women of color who thought that graduate school, and a career in writing was beyond their reach.”
In this inaugural year, all women and nonbinary writers of color newly or currently enrolled in the graduate playwriting programs at Brooklyn College, Brown University, Columbia University, Juilliard, Northwestern University, NYU-Tisch School of the Arts, University of California San Diego, and Yale University were encouraged to apply for this fellowship. This year’s recipients were selected by a panel led by playwrights Lydia Diamond and Nikkole Salter.
“These inspiring young playwrights confirm that in their talented hands the future of the American Theatre is bright, said Diamond in a statement. “And Lord are we all craving singular voices delivering moving and entertaining plays about things that matter.”
In 2024 and beyond, the Hansberry Lilly Playwright Fellowship will be dedicated exclusively to incoming enrollees, and more schools with graduate playwriting programs may be added to the eligible list. The Lillys aim to increase the number of women and nonbinary writers of color who are able to attend such programs. The Dramatists Guild Foundation will manage the $2.5 million Hansberry Lilly Playwright Fellowship endowment and administer the awards.
Amalia Oliva Rojas is a Mexican poet, performer, and theatre “artivist” raised and based in Nueva York. She is a proud alumnus of the Vassar College Powerhouse Theater Apprentice Program, CUNY Lehman College, and is currently pursuing her MFA in playwriting at Columbia University. Her plays include Tonantzin On the 7 Train, A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Succeed in the Myth-Making Business (Lehman College), How to Melt ICE (or How the Coyote fell in love with the lizard who was really a butterfly) (New York Women’s Fund Grant, New Perspectives Theatre Company and Boundless Theater Company), and In The Bronx Brown Girls Can See Stars Too (Titan Theatre Company Future Classics Festival).
Danielle Stagger is a playwright and performer from Queens, N.Y. Her work prioritizes the authentic presence of Blackness, queerness, and womanhood both on and offstage. As an artist in practice, she places particular emphasis on creating in community, and continually works to decentralize and destabilize the product-driven, linear theatrical process. Danielle has developed work at Second Stage Theater, Manhattan Theater Club, Performance Space New York, Dragon Theatre, and Stanford Repertory Theater. Her work has been a finalist for the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, the Ollie New Play Award, and the Lark’s Venturous Playwrights Fellowship. Danielle holds a B.A. in theatre and performance studies from Stanford University and is currently pursuing an MFA in playwriting at the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale.
The Lorraine Hansberry Initiative seeks to honor the great American playwright and civil rights leader by investing in those following in her footsteps. Lorraine Hansberry became the first Black female playwright on Broadway with her play A Raisin in the Sun in 1959. This initiative aims to keep the current national conversation about race, justice, and economic equality going by honoring Lorraine Hansberry, adding to the growing movement to honor women and people of color with physical monuments, and alleviating the financial inequality that discourages women and non-binary playwrights of color from pursuing graduate degrees in her chosen art form.
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